Reform Jewish Movement Calls for Presidential Pardon of Dr. Preston King
Saperstein: "It is time to bring closure and healing to the bitter history in America of racial discrimination. Granting a pardon to Dr. Preston King and ending his exile is a major step in that direction."
Contact: Jeff Mandell, (202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON, January 19, 2000 — Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today urged President Clinton to pardon Dr. Preston King. Dr. King, a highly-regarded political philosopher and a renowned teacher in demand by universities all over the world, has been in exile since 1961, when he was convicted of failure to register for the draft because he refused to answer letters that were racially discriminatory. Numerous prominent figures have called for Dr. King's pardon, including NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Richard Thornell, a law professor and classmate of Dr. King's.
The full text of Rabbi Saperstein's letter follows:
Dr. Preston King has lived in exile since 1961, unwilling to return home for fear of being imprisoned for a criminal conviction that he and others consider racially biased. On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing the national Reform Jewish Movement, I am writing to urge that Dr. King should be pardoned and allowed an overdue safe passage home.
In 1961, America was not at war. Dr. King's failure to cooperate with the draft board was an act of conscience regarding the struggle for racial justice in which his family has been leaders. Had the draft board afforded Dr. King the respect all individuals deserve, he would have joined the U.S. armed forces.
Dr. King received a draft notice addressed, properly, to Mr. Preston King. However, when the draft board became aware of Dr. King's skin color, all further correspondence addressed him as "Preston." King refused to respond to a letter that did not address him properly. After he kept ignoring "Dear Preston" letters, he was charged with draft evasion, convicted in Federal court and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Rather than go to jail, he jumped bail and fled the country. Judge William A. Bootle, who presided over King's case almost 40 years ago, today advocates Dr. King's freedom. With remarkable candor Judge Bootle has said, "Looking back at the whole picture, the case never would have arisen if not for racial discrimination."
During his 39 years in exile, Dr. King has achieved enormous academic prominence having taught at universities around the world. He is widely regarded as a political philosopher of the first rank.
It is time to bring closure and healing to the bitter history in America of racial discrimination. Granting a pardon to Dr. Preston King and ending his exile is a major step in that direction.
Rabbi David Saperstein
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.